Café Huskies in Svalbard sells coffee, baked goods, and local art—all while local dogs roam the shop
GUEST BLOG / By Sarah Kuta writing for Outside Magazine--Café Huskies runs like any other coffee shop: patrons come in, order chai lattes and slices of poppyseed cake, then sit down to read a book, chat with a friend, or type away on their laptops.
Four Norwegian transplants who all worked together at a Longyearbyen hotel—Martin Fiala, Nicola Bunyan, Iris Dahle Bjørkmann, and Kristina Labunskaite—opened the business to create a homey environment for locals and visitors, who come with the hope of seeing polar bears and the northern lights.
A rotating crew of local dogs—pets that belong to staffers, friends, friends of friends, former colleagues, and other residents—“work” several shifts a week. Their entire job is to bring joy to patrons and create a living room vibe at the cafe. After their human parents drop them off, the pups hang out, alternating between several dog beds, couches, and the floor.
They’re also in hot demand for Instagram photos. Like many good ideas, Café Huskies started as a joke over beers. A few years ago, Fiala read about cat cafes opening up around the world. But cats are banned on Svalbard to prevent the spread of disease and protect local wildlife, so he made an off-hand comment about adapting the concept to dogs.
When a centrally-located retail space came up for rent, the friends took it as a sign to combine their visions and make them a reality. Bjørkmann, who is from mainland Norway and could help with all the startup paperwork written in Norwegian, also joined in.
They quickly spruced up the space, ordered equipment, and began recruiting dogs to spend time at the cafe. “We don’t have all these dogs ourselves, so we had to figure something out,” says Fiala. “Basically, we’ve asked friends or colleagues who have dogs if they’d like to bring them in as a kind of dog socializing spot and that’s worked OK so far.”
Whenever he’s scheduled to work, Clooney—a long, lanky, white and gray husky—serves as the official greeter, calmly accepting pats and rubs as customers walk through the front door. There are also DJ and Eminem, two elderly retired sled dogs known for sleeping on the job, as well as Jersey, a sweet female with piercing blue eyes. Tequila, a cheery, all-white five-year-old just had her first litter of puppies.
And Stuka, Jeti, Fox, Brun, Gandhi, Thando, Nemi, and R2-D2 also pick up shifts from time to time. It’s a loose arrangement just for fun in which no money exchanges hands: the pups get plenty of treats, lots of affection and stimulation, and regular walks during each shift.
“We created this really nice, cozy vibe because that’s what we like—we wanted to make this type of place for ourselves and share it with everyone,” says Bunyan. “We want people to feel at home.”
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